Waterford 0-18 Cork 0-17

Dun-gar-VAAAN, concrete jungle where dreams are MAAADE of . . .

No, doesn’t work. Still, while Dungarvan may not even be in a position to lay claim to the title of the Big Apple Pip it does have some of the accoutrements of civilisation. Arriving there early and with some time to kill, a flicker of memory as we drove through countless times in the past told me there was a McDonald’s on the ring road and lo! there it was in all its Medite glory. You may object to the soul-destroying conformity of Mackey D’s but there is great comfort to be had in the knowledge that you can get a decent coffee, clean facilities and a place to park your butt for as long as you like. Please note: in a place like Dungarvan the choice is not between McDonald’s and Old Mother Hubbard’s Locally Sourced Organic Fair Trade Coffee Shop. The choice is between McDonald’s and nothing.

Not to say Dungarvan doesn’t have other attractions, and one of them can be seen in Fraher Field. Padraig Lodge on RTÉ radio picked up on it, i.e. its “scenic rural setting”. It is rather lovely, the sylvan setting a huge step up from Walsh Park’s Lowryesque view of the jute factory. And perhaps it was that, rather than a perfect day for hurling and a significant away contingent buoyed up by their win over Galway last week and thumping of Down in football the night before, that caused a larger than usual – certainly larger than the trend – crowd to descend on the ground causing the match to be put back 15 minutes. Not being able to object to this shoddy treatment of those of us who turned up in plenty of time, it left plenty of other things to reflect on. How Cork have personalised training kit – nice to see the strike produced such tremendous yields. How the team in the programme was less accurate than an anonymous post on a forum. How Kilkenny were putting the beatdown on Galway. And how Cyril Kavanagh aka Sombrero Man was nowhere to be seen. But wait! There he is! Say what you like about the bould Cyril, and seeing as he is a diehard supporter of the strikers we wouldn’t agree on everything, but one couldn’t accuse him of being a part-time fan.

Finally the game got underway after some predictable hacking-and-slashing before the throw-in. Thought the players didn’t care about the League. Waterford had a stiff breeze in the first half so it was clearly going to be important to get a decent half-time lead. They got off to a good start, Richie Foley knocking over an early free then John Mullane earning a slightly fortunate free after Barry Kelly adjudged he had been chopped when it seemed to me he’d just lost the ball. Foley did the needful and then Mullane gathered a dropping ball from Adrian Power to tee up Shane Walsh to put Waterford three points up.  It probably should be noted at this stage, lest it gets forgotten in the welter of stream-of-consciousness excitement at the end of this report, that Walsh’s performance was by some distance the highlight of the day. Often in the past I’ve damned him with faint praise. It went unsaid but was most definitely thought last week that I couldn’t understand why shiny new talent like Eamonn Murphy and Pauric Mahony were taken off while a slightly shop-soiled plodder like Walsh was left on. He was so good at full-forward that you wonder why he hasn’t more time in there. Moments after his first point he nearly unpicked the Cork defence but lost his hurley as he tried to get through. Cork cleared it out for a sideline which Foley struck cleanly but just wide.

A good start then but Cork were up to the challenge, Pa Cronin storming through the Waterford backs after a great catch to open their account, then loose play by Mullane allowed Cork to counterattack and Luke O’Farrell scored the first of his three points on the day. Waterford struck straight back, this time Shane Walsh being teed up by Seamus Prendergast then Walsh turned provider for Pauric Mahony to restore Waterford’s three point lead. Unfortunately this would be as good as it would get for Mahony as he soon was dispossessed by Niall McCarthy who raced clear to get Cork’s third point. Seamus Prendergast put Waterford three points clear again with an all-my-own-work point then Waterford were fortunate that their failure to provide any support to an exposed David O’Sullivan didn’t lead to a score, O’Sullivan sensibly coughing up the ball rather than be penalised for overcarrying and Tom Kenny put the ball wide. A poor wide from Patrick Horgan was only obviously crucial after the event but in general Cork would be more profligate than Waterford throughout the 70.

It was just as well because Cork seemed to be winning far more possession. Their tactic of short puckouts, something first noted on the Rosetta stone, seemed to come as a surprise to Waterford as Cusack’s puckouts routinely found men in space. At the other end Adrian Power turned into trouble and Waterford were fortunate to scramble the ball as far out as Cian McCarthy who only administered one point of punishment. Seamus Prendergast was getting some joy from Power’s more orthodox puckouts, another attempt to run through the entire Cork team ending in a wide but was soon followed up by a short-handled bat over the bar. In the short ball department Waterford had already tried a couple of quick sidelines with some success – perhaps they’d been watching the rugby the evening before – but made a complete bags of a third effort and were lucky to scramble the ball clear. Amidst all this Cork hit a purple patch, Horgan pointing after Noel Connors had shown Clinton Hennessy how to deal with a forward bearing down on goal by the expedient of simply standing up to him rather than trying to decapitate him. Horgan then got an excellent score from an acute angle before William Egan levelled matters with a thumping point from distance.

With the wind as it was it looked bad, so thank goodness (part the first) for Kevin Moran, drilling the ball over after a scarily kamikaze run from deep by O’Sullivan. Waterford were grateful for another sloppy wide, this time from Niall McCarthy after Cronin had done all the hard work, and Mullane punished this on the double with a fine solo point to put Waterford two ahead again. Mullane was also at the heart of Waterford’s next score, getting to the pitch of Wayne Hutchinson’s bomb after a magnificent piece of fielding by the full-back. I say ‘getting to the pitch’ because he never got proper control of the ball and was lucky that Barry Kelly thought he was being fouled, to the bewilderment of the Cork fan in front of me and the Waterford fan to my right. It took an age for Foley to knock over the simple free, long enough for the man behind me to note that Galway were in front in Salthill. No danger of that kind of swing in a Waterford-Cork game.

Wayne Hutchinson was having a great game at full-back, although he had to give second best to Horgan and foul him in a dangerous position. The same player hefted his shoulders as if he was going to go for a goal but ended up slotting the ball over the bar. Tom Kenny then went on a trademark rampage but his shot dropping lamely into the backline, although Waterford made a hash of the clearance and were grateful that Lorcan McLoughlin could only hit another bad wide. Maurice Shanahan got in on the poor shooting lesson after Hutchinson, Ken McGrath and Mullane had done the grunt work. McLoughlin made up for his carelessness with a tremendous catch-and-run to give O’Farrell a simple score. Pauric Mahony then fussed around with the ball a bit too much and was grateful to see it break loose to Mullane who smacked it straight over the bar. Cork rounded off the scoring for the half as Horgan slotted over a point after Kenny had been fouled by Michael Walsh to leave just the one point in it at the break.

There seemed no way that one point advantage would be enough. Wexford and Offaly were keeping themselves in touch with Dublin and Tipperary respectively by virtue of the wind and Cork had a bench groaning under the weight of Celtic crosses should they be required to finish the game off. Most alarmingly for Waterford was the performance of Ken McGrath. I’ve never been one to believe in ‘match fitness’ – either you are fit or you are not, the idea of needing to get into the groove is a fallacy – yet I found myself hoping that his stodgy performance was due to a lack of games. Giveitfong has speculated that “Davy is trying to force him out of the setup” which might be the case – had Ken not given Davy a blast in the winter? – but whatever it was Ken was having a bad day at the office.

The second half would commence with him moved into the half forwards but with Pauric Mahony struggling to make an impact in there already this was asking for trouble. Waterford’s first attack of the half saw Mullane trying to win yet another soft free but this time Barry Kelly was unmoved and he had to settle for giving Richie Foley the ball in less-than-ideal circumstances and his snatched shot drifted wide. Cork drew level after a 65 earned after some chaos in the Waterford back line, and Waterford were really struggling to win clean ball, Prendergast crowded out by the Cork back and McGrath shooting wide when they did find some. It was hard to keep up with all the flicks and touches being wrought by Cork  – well, that’s my excuse for a period of play where I completely lost track of events – but in retrospect this is an argument for a more direct style of play because Cork did precious little with it, not least because Fives, Hutchinson and Connors seemed to be coping with everything that came their way. And Waterford nearly dished out the maximum punishment for such carelessness as McGrath and Foley combined to set Shane Walsh clear. He set up Seamus Prendergast for what you thought had to be a goal that you you thought we surely needed, but Cork somehow cleared the danger from point-blank range.

Walsh really was in the zone and he put Waterford back in front after some good approach work by Maurice Shanahan but Cork, despite a desperate wide, were beginning to make that possession count, Brian Murphy pouncing on a poor clearance to level matters then taking the lead for the first time when Hutchinson was harshly adjudged to have fouled his man. Eoin Kelly came on for Ken and I must shamefully admit that this struck me as a good move. It was only going to be a matter of time before Pauric Mahony followed him as the youngster fluffed a decent chance that had been set up for him by Shanahan. A ball dropped in by Cork was enough to make you wince as Hutchinson came to gather with no one behind him. If he screwed up we were doomed. But screw up he most certainly did not, catching the ball brilliantly and powering Waterford back into the attack where Mullane lifted spirits with the equalising point. Somehow we were still in this.

Mullane would then be at the centre of an odd moment. Power cleared well after being put into trouble by Michael Walsh and his clearance fell into Mullane’s territory. It seemed to me he was fouled and there wsn’t much in the way of reaction from anyone, yet HoganStand.com says he “was fortunate not to be red-carded” for the incident. Whatever happened in that incident, a few moments later Shanahan was taken around the neck and Foley smashed over a superb free to put Waterford back in front. At the other end Tom Kenny managed to elude his marker and cut in towards goal. It would have been some effort from a narrow angle but Waterford were grateful to just get the ball away from where Cork equalised. Seamus Prendergast won the puckout but was enveloped by Cork players. Being fouled or fouling the ball? Neither, said the ref, and the subsequent melee from the throw-in ended up in a sideline ball from which Waterford managed to work the ball to Shanahan in space. Like Kenny before him it would have been a sensational goal from that angle but Waterford would not pick up the spare, Foley missing the 65.

Pauiric Mahony’s race was almost run by now, his movement away from the Cork goal being intercepted by Paudie O’Sullivan who was fouled several times as he strode towards goal. Eventually the ref gave the free and Cork were back in front. Ominously Ronan Curran entered the fray. The phony war was over and Cork were rolling out the heavy artillery. But Cork couldn’t have counted on Hutchinson, who put together two monster clearances to repel danger, and Shane Walsh who on the second of those clearances was fed by Foley and drew Waterford level again. Waterford almost got the goal that (ahem) they surely needed when from a long free, awarded after Michael Walsh earned a because-he’s-The-Brick free, bounced around in the Cork box but mysteriously ended up wide after the umpire had signalled a 65.

Cork spurned two great opportunities to regain the lead with a dropping ball eluding everyone and Niall McCarthy hitting another ball wide, but he finally rounded off a Cork attack successfully to put them a point up with eight minutes left. We needed a score fast and got one after an excellent run from O’Sullivan and Shane Walsh scoring from a difficult angle to bring up his fifth point. Eoin Kelly, on for the luckless Mahony, almost put Waterford in front but his shot just drifted wide and one of the stream of Cork heavyweights coming on landed a potentially winning blow, Jerry O’Connor doing what he does best.

But did that turnover of players actually unsettle Cork? Whatever went wrong, something did because that was their final score. Power did well to draw a soft free from a dangerous Cork attack and in the next passage of play Foley fired over a magnificent free from way out to level the game. Fraher Field suddenly erupted as Waterford supporters sensed a get-out-jail-free card was at the top of the Community Chest. I’ve wondered in the past whether, much like an NBA game, we should skip the first 65 minutes of Waterford-Cork games and just play the last five, starting level. It’d make things simpler. There was nothing simple about the winning score. John Mullane flapped around in the corner without much impact so thank goodness (part the second) for Kevin Moran who scored from an improbable angle to leave Waterford a point up as the 70 came to a close. Only one minute of injury time meant Waterford could afford to play some soccer-style keep-ball which got them to the point where Cork would only have one more attack. They did get that one but this last gasp effort drifted wide in the manner of Joe Canning and Waterford had secured a tremendous win.

I really think the better team lost. As with so many games between these two counties over the last couple of decades it could have easily gone the other way had the game gone on for another five minutes. But even discounting the result Waterford could take a lot from the game. The full-back line were uniformly excellent, particularly Hutchinson. Richie Foley has put the aberration against Wexford well and truly behind him and scored at least two opposition-demoralising frees. A five point haul from Mullane and Moran shows what we missed in the first three games. And then there was Shane Walsh. If Noel McGrath deserved plaudits for going nap last week then why not Walsh? He must start at full-forward against Kilkenny where we will really see what he’s made of.

But even discounting the result . . . why discount the result? We beat Cork. Always something to celebrate.

Waterford: Adrian Power, Darragh Fives, Wayne Hutchinson, Noel Connors, David O’Sullivan, Michael Walsh, Kevin Moran (0-2), Richie Foley (0-5f), Ken McGrath (Eoin Kelly), Stephen Molumphy, Shane Walsh (0-5), Pauric Mahony (0-1; Tomás Ryan), John Mullane (0-3), Seamus Prendergast (0-1), Maurice Shanahan (0-1)

Cork: Donal Óg Cusack, Stephen McDonnell, Eoin Dillon, Conor O’Sullivan (Ronan Curran), John Gardiner (0-1, 65), Brian Murphy (0-1), William Egan (0-1), Lorcan McLoughlin (0-1; Jerry O’Connor, 0-1), Pa Cronin (0-1), Tom Kenny, Cian McCarthy (0-1), Niall McCarthy (0-1; Cathal Naughton), Patrick Horgan (0-6, 0-4 f), Paudie O’Sullivan (Ben O’Connor), Luke O’Farrell (0-3; Michael Cussen)

HT: Waterford 0-11 Cork 0-10

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)